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MLB to honor the late Glenn Burke, the league’s first openly gay player

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Major League Baseball has chosen a special night to honor the league’s first openly gay player. According to a report by the New York Times Monday, Glenn Burke, a gay player who played with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s, will be recognized as part of Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis.

Burke was just 27 years old when he walked away from Major League Baseball. It was during the height of his promising career during a time when being gay was much tougher than it is today. Back in 1982, Burke spoke about how hard it was to be closeted while playing the sport he loved. He said, “It’s harder to be gay in sports than anywhere else, except maybe president. Baseball is probably the hardest sport of all.”

With professional athletes in other sports coming out as gay such as Robbie Rogers, Jason Collins, Michael Sam and recently Ian Thorpe, MLB is continuing its efforts to further create and demonstrate an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance in the world of baseball as a way to make it easier for a active player to publicly come out. Burke wasn’t public at the time, but he was still a trailblazer who paved the way by being so open after he walked away from the game.

In recognition of Burke, MLB has invited his family to Tuesday night’s festivities. One of his siblings, Lutha Burke told the Times that the honor should’ve occurred years ago. He said, “It was overdue, and Glenn has a story that needs to be told. Glenn wouldn’t be upset that it took this long. He’d just say, ‘It’s about time you guys showed up.’”

Glenn Burke died from the effects of AIDS in 1995, but his legacy is the soul and spirit he has left behind in those who got to know him. Major League Baseball will also announce that Billy Bean, who came out publicly as gay in 1999, four years after he retired, will work with the league in an effort to advance its inclusion efforts. Although an active player has yet to come out as gay, former players such as Curt Schilling say he has played with gay teammates.